Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has been personally challenged twice in recent days to do more to encourage an increase in beef cow numbers.
Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers president Andy McGowan made the call on Saturday at the organisation’s annual conference in Glasgow only to have it amplified at a farmers’ meeting in Lanark market.
NFU Scotland stalwart Tom French, who farms near Crawfordjohn, told Mr Ewing: “I am really worried for the future. Suckler cow numbers are the lowest since 1954 and have been in decline for decades. It is shocking. Please try and stop this decline. I cannot overestimate the importance of continued funding.”
Mr Ewing replied: “I agree entirely and I am happy to take up the challenge. I worry about the increased costs per unit through the abattoirs. There could come a point where the whole system comes under threat.
“Apart from funding there are things we can do such as increasing the marketing effort through Quality Meat Scotland. I would also like to see greater public procurement of Scottish meat although I know this is a complicated area.
“At the same time we have issues such as methane emissions and climate change to cope with. Scottish farming has a good message here but we need to get it over better.”
Challenged by some non-farming voices in the audience to show a greater sense of urgency on climate change, Mr Ewing insisted that there could be a “win-win” situation.
He said: “I am convinced that sustainable farming is good for the climate and that mixed farming has its benefits. We have to dispel the notion that farming is harmful and collaboration with others is the best way to achieve that.”
Mr Ewing, along with NFU Scotland, had called the meeting originally to discuss Brexit but admitted there had been little progress in discussions. The most recent talks had been over a sheep industry compensation scheme which could be put in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Defra had modelled such a scheme but Mr Ewing pointed out that there had been no Treasury agreement. In any event he regarded a compensation scheme as coming a very poor second to a healthy market.
Mr Ewing said: “It is all extremely frustrating. The UK government had a poor hand on Brexit and it has gone on to play it poorly.”